Counterfeit goods

Alongside dodgy designer knock-offs, sophisticated copies are being sold online - and they're that much harder to detect.
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03.Dangerous goods

While a knock-off designer handbag probably won’t kill you, there are plenty of counterfeit products that may pose a significant risk to health and safety.

Sporting equipment: Cases of dodgy golf clubs, where the head has fallen off, and tennis rackets that contain lead paint number among those that have been reported to the Counterfeit Alert Network, run by the Australian Sporting Goods Association.

Electronics: Fake electricals can contain inferior components that can be very dangerous. UK consumer group Which? issued a warning about this issue in 2011. It found fake Nintendo Wiis with bad wiring, and fake phones and laptops which were at risk of overheating.

Pharmaceuticals and cosmetics: Many pharmaceuticals sold online are unregulated and may be produced in unsanitary conditions. During an international crackdown last year, Australian Customs seized 37,000 pills in one week that had been purchased online and had the potential to be counterfeit. Counterfeit perfumes can cause skin allergies, burn the skin, trigger respiratory problems and stain clothes. 

Some fakes simply may not do what they claim. For example, sunglasses could have UV claims that are irrelevant, or toothpaste may not contain an active ingredient.

Extent of the problem

The value of counterfeit products intercepted in Australia reached an all-time high last year, with the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service seizing more than 700,000 counterfeit products with a total estimated value of $48.5m (based on the equivalent value of genuine goods). Globally, counterfeits are estimated to account for about 2% of world trade, amounting to $272bn, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Meanwhile, the International Chamber of Commerce has higher estimates, saying the global counterfeit trades accounts for five to seven per cent of world trade and is worth around $600bn. 

Customs’ figures show the majority of fake products entering Australia come from South-East Asia. Experts we spoke to see China as the hub, with 67% of counterfeit seizures globally between 2008 and 2010 having been manufactured there, according to the World Customs Organization. Australians have taken to online shopping with a vengeance and our fervour shows no sign of abating. While there are many benefits to online shopping, consumers are more exposed to the risks of counterfeit products. 

A study based on US and European consumers found that as many as one in five people looking for a bargain online were duped into buying counterfeit products. According to Phill Arnold, the rise in online shopping is responsible for the increase in counterfeits. “Things have escalated in recent years due entirely to the internet,” he says.


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